HP's EcoPod: Beginning of the End for Traditional Data Centers

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HP has been doing some interesting work of late and this week it launched the EcoPod, effectively putting the market on notice that the traditional data center was a thing of the past. I saw the concept of a data center in a box some years back at a Microsoft event and since then, both HP and Dell have been working to refine the concept, which has the potential to vastly reduce the energy, space, cost and flexibility of the traditional data center.


Let's explore that this week.

The Increasing Change Rate of Technology

It is interesting to me that as fast as some things change, we get so tied up in thinking of the changing parts that we, as an industry, tend to forget to change the wrappers. Back at the beginning of the computing age with mainframes, the hardware didn't change that quickly. A terminal was a terminal. You might have added capacity to a mainframe, but you rarely changed it out and, when you did, you put in place something almost identical in size and power to replace it. We haven't lived in that world for decades, yet we still tend to build data centers as if they aren't going change much. We design for near-term computing needs even though those needs and the related technology are now changing several times a year.

I'm not just talking about the server technology, either. Cooling technology, monitoring technology, even access technology are changing at an increasing rate, which is problematic since data centers are often built into the middle of buildings, making significant changes to them very expensive.

Rethinking the Data Center

The HP EcoPod is rethinking the data center from scratch much like the PC itself was rethinking the idea of a terminal and mainframe. In the PC's case, it was moving the computing power and responsibility to the user. With the EcoPod, it is creating something that can be better optimized and replaced than the traditional data center.

In effect, the EcoPod is a container that has been designed for the current level of component and cooling technology; designed to be updated internally when servers, storage and networking technology changes; and designed to be easily replaced when a massive industry change aggregates across the technology groups and/or has a major impact on power, physical management or cooling.

The EcoPod is both built and tested by HP initially before delivery so that installation is in hours and days rather than months, and disruption is virtually eliminated. The most interesting part is that not only should this approach be more convenient, it should be more energy-efficient and less costly as well. This is because it potentially cuts labor costs both by ensuring assemblers aren't learning on the job (assembly of each pod is done by a team doing them back to back) and because the pod is optimized for the tasks, reducing excessive redundancy waste and allowing the vendor to bid tighter margins because of the related reduced risk.

Where the word "eco" comes in is with regard to energy savings. Because the product is optimized for cooling as a system and because the components are all designed to interoperate and intelligently share cooling and power resources, the electrical costs, according to HP, are sharply reduced, as are the costs to maintain and service the result. In the end, you get something that is much more future-proof, less expensive to buy, less expensive to use and support, and more reliable.

The downside is you can't roll one into your existing data center, which means, for existing buildings, a place to put the EcoPod may not be easy to find. For many existing buildings that may not be possible and this solution will favor new construction, but you could put them in a local warehouse or build something nearby to house them. It will make you rethink your approach to data centers.

Wrapping Up: Changes

Both HP and Dell are going down this path to containerized data centers giving vendors a chance to bid against each other. HP's strategic edge is an almost rabid focus on energy savings and it is actually working on manure-powered data centers. But the EcoPod represents what we, as an industry, should do more often. We should rethink all aspects of how we supply technology to see if the aggregation of little changes might drive a bigger change like creating modular data centers.